The Witcher, or Are Video Game TV Series A Good Idea?

Video games are often used as a source of inspiration for movies – especially those with a long history and a massive fan base. This often leads to questionable results, even if we don’t count the calamities made by the infamous German director Uwe Boll. Video games often have elaborate lore that movie versions often ignore which makes them almost universally hated by the games’ fans. The same goes the other way around: movie-based video games are almost never a success, with the exception of maybe a handful of smartphone apps and movie-based slot machines. Now Netflix has decided to explore a different format, turning a successful video game into a TV series. The game is called “The Witcher” and it is already under fire.

The Witcher story

“The Witcher” is a series of fantasy novels written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. Set in a fantasy world filled with swords and sorcery, the series follows a monster hunter (Witcher) named Geralt of Rivia through his adventures across a monster-ridden world. The novels developed a cult following in the author’s native Poland and were pretty popular in many Central and Eastern European countries but couldn’t break into the English-language market. That until Sapkowski received an interesting offer.

CD Projekt Red, a Polish video game developer, obtained a license from Sapkowski to turn the story into a role-playing video game. Although the author – and the proposed game’s publisher – were both doubtful of the title’s international success, the game was built and released in September 2008. To everyone’s surprise, the game became a major hit both with the players and the critics. It spawned two sequels, the second of which – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – generated over 1.5 million preorders and sold over six million copies within six weeks from its release.

The Witcher on TV

Before Netflix, a TV movie and series based on Sapkowski’s novels was shot and broadcast in Poland – it was not very successful, though, being bashed by the critics and Sapkowski alike. Ultimately, Platige Image – the company that produced the cinematics for CD Projekt’s games – obtained the rights to the screen adaptation of the novel series. The company decided to turn it into a TV series together with Netflix, with Tomasz Bagiński, the Oscar-nominated Polish animator who created the cinematics for the game, set to direct, and Sapkowski set to work as a creative consultant. The title role in the series will be played by Henry Cavill.

The series was criticized by the fans of the games since day one. First of all, they didn’t agree with the choice for the title role, and later, as the rest of the cast was revealed, they further criticized the choices made by the filmmakers. One of the most resounding scandals (online, mind you) erupted after the announcement that Ciri, the young ward of Geralt of Rivia, will be played by a “BAME” actress (short for “Black, Asian, and other non-white minority ethnic”) – come to think of it, a “BAME” actor would be a bit unusual for a story that takes place in a place called “The Northern Kingdoms”, similar to our own Scandinavia. Ultimately, the producers changed their minds, casting English actress Freya Allan in the role.

Principal photography of the series has begun last fall – in Budapest, Hungary, and Gran Canaria, Spain. The series is set to be released on Netflix sometime this year – at last, we’ll get to know whether a series based on a video game will be any good or not. Let’s hope it will…